Our exclusive on Donald Trump, Russia, the mob, and the FBI drew a lot of interest. Here are two more podcasts featuring our Editor-in-Chief, Russ Baker. Each offers a somewhat different exploration of the issues.
Our exclusive on Donald Trump, Russia, the mob, and the FBI drew a lot of interest. Here are two more podcasts featuring our Editor-in-Chief, Russ Baker. Each offers a different exploration of the issues.
Listen to Russ Baker on KGO with Pat Thurston:
Listen to Russ Baker talking with Peter B. Collins:
Pat Thurston KGO Interview – Full Text Transcript:
As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to a constraint of resources, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like and hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.
Pat Thurston: Good evening, I’m Pat Thurston. I am delighted to welcome Russ Baker back to the program. Russ is an author, former investigative reporter for the Village Voice, and editor-in-chief of WhoWhatWhy.org. So if you’re like me, you’ve been trying to understand the tangle of Donald Trump’s connections directly, or through his associates, with Russia and Vladimir Putin. And the web seems to grow bigger, more complicated, and more direct every single day, or at least our knowledge of that web does, and now come more revelations. Revelations that have to do with the Russian mob, Putin, and Donald Trump. And those revelations come to us courtesy of Russ Baker, on WhoWhatWhy.org, the recent piece headlined, “Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia.” And Russ Baker, thank you so much for being with us this evening.
Russ Baker: Oh, it’s great to be here Pat, always enjoy doing your show.
Pat: I shared your article with a lot of people. You may be getting a lot of calls because this is such an incredible piece. You’ve done a lot of work with a couple of your associates at WhoWhatWhy.org. And I do want to acknowledge that whatever we talk about today, people need to go to the website to get the article because we are not going to be able to touch on everything that we would like to touch on. And you want to get all the connections and names in your head. But let’s go through this, and Russ, there are a lot of freaky people that maybe we can start with who live at Trump Tower. Some of them with criminal backgrounds, and one of those people was Felix Sater. Can we start with Felix? Can you tell us about him?
Russ: Sure, now Felix didn’t live in Trump Tower as far as we know, but he certainly had an office there. He’s somebody whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union, and he in the 1990s was involved with a financial firm that basically was accused of doing what they call pump and dump, which was selling essentially worthless stocks to unsuspecting,, unsophisticated investors, particularly preying on the elderly and those who just did not know what they were dealing with. Eventually that operation was shut down and the people involved were prosecuted. Felix Sater managed to cut a deal with the authorities when the FBI told him he had some information that they wanted and, whatever that was, they thought this was very exciting and so they took him under their wing. And basically what was going on was that Felix Sater knew a lot about the organized crime coming out of the former Soviet Union. And Pat, that organized crime had spread and had become a real cancer on the United States, was infiltrating every aspect of the financial system, also involved with other things, trafficking in nuclear weapons. I mean, they were just into everything, as we say in the article, it was right out of a James Bond movie. And so, this Russian mob had grown and grown and grown, and the FBI was very concerned about it by the mid-90s. And when they got a hold of Felix Sater, they decided to cut a deal with him, and so he became an informant for the FBI, and then while he was doing that became involved in another company. They moved into Trump Tower, and then he became quite friendly and close with Donald Trump. He became actually essentially a business partner with Trump in a number of ventures around the country and around the world, the most notable of which is called Trump Soho. It’s a big skyscraper tower with hotel and condominiums. And so Felix Sater, connected into the Russian mob, an informant into the highest echelons of that mob was, in that same period, working with Donald Trump, very close to Donald Trump. So this is the beginning of the story of Donald Trump’s connections and awareness of this Russian mob structure. And what’s very important to understand is that that Russian mob was connected then to Vladimir Putin.
Pat: Explain that a little bit to us, Russ. Because, when we think of organized crime here in the United States, we think of organized crime as a criminal organization, not part of the United States government. As a matter of fact, our government, our law enforcement works to thwart their operations. That’s not the same as the mob in Russia is it?
Russ: No, in fact, what happened in Russia was that even while there was a Soviet Union, there was mob in Russia, and they perform certain functions, some of which were considered to be very useful by the Soviet authorities. But in any case, when some of them emigrated, and they came to the West. But the wonderful Soviet Union came apart suddenly, there was a scramble, and there was a void, and all these people who had nothing became oligarchs, and certain people, who like Vladimir Putin, who were relatively minor figures in say the KGB, suddenly found themselves climbing up the political ladder. And so they needed these alliances. They needed muscle. They needed people who could move money. They needed to do money laundering and so forth. And so what you found in Russia was that there was really no ability to separate, let’s say, the state from the underworld, the oligarchs from the mobsters. It was all one giant party essentially. And it’s very interesting… your listeners don’t have to take our word for that… one of the top lieutenants in the Russian mob actually mentioned, the fact that his boss, fellow named Mogilevich we talked about, is considered the boss of bosses of this Eastern European mob. He happened to mention how close Mogilevich was with Putin, that they were very, very close. And shortly after he said that, he was gunned down by a sniper on the streets of Moscow.
Pat: It’s incredible, and there’s certainly more to come. Hang on with us. Russ Baker is my guest. The article that you’re going to want to read right now, and then of course you’re going to want to stay tuned to WhoWhatWhy.org, is, “Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia.” We’ll get to more. The telephone number is eighty-eighty-eight-ten, and that’s 415-808-0810. I’m Pat Thurston, and you’re listening to KGO.
Good evening, I’m Pat Thurston. Russ Baker is my guest. His website is WhoWhatWhy.org. It’s an investigative journalism website, and one that you should be checking every single day of your life. We’re talking about his newest piece, “Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia.” And this involves the Russian mob, and it is an incredible story. It’s a lengthy story. It’s a little complicated. And it’s one you’re going to want to read to yourself.
So alright, Russ, we’re talking about Felix Sater, he was an FBI asset. He became an FBI asset, and then you also brought up the boss of bosses, Mogilevich, and this is a guy who managed to get a Russian judge to release a ruthless and canny lifetime criminal from a Siberian prison. I can’t begin to pronounce his name. I think the last name is Ivankov. Tell us about him.
Russ: Yeah, so, there’s a lot of characters in here. It’s a little bit like watching your favorite Netflix original series. Quite a few characters. You know, the problem with this story is that more and more we are told to only deal with extremely simple things, but the world has gotten more and more complicated. And we actually need to do the hard work of studying these sorts of narratives. We do the hard work so everybody else doesn’t have to. Still, reading it is complicated, like the twists and turns of a TV series. But basically what we’re talking about here is, as I say, the FBI really panicked about the extent to which the Russian or Eastern European mob had infiltrated Wall Street, and they actually were worried that it could destabilize the entire American, and perhaps even world financial system. And so it became one of the FBI’s highest priorities. I would say that prior to 9/11, it actually may have been the highest priority for the FBI, was to stop these people. Now this guy Mogilevich, the so-called boss of bosses, a short, very fat man, and totally ruthless, he sent a lieutenant, this guy Ivankov, who he got sprung from a jail somehow in Russia, sent him to the United States. Ivankov was supposed to come over and run all these operations here. The FBI got word that he was in the United States, but they didn’t know where he was. They were trying to find him. The first place they actually found him was that he was living in Trump Tower. So, you know, you got another guy in Trump Tower. As soon as they identified him – somehow, whether he got a tip or whatever, but he vanished. The next time they were able to locate him, he was over in Atlantic City and casinos at Trump Taj Mahal. Now this is a very, very interesting, and as you noted Pat earlier, in our article at WhoWhatWhy.org, we actually go through many of the people who were in Trump Tower, and it’s this kind of incredible sort of rogues’ gallery. We looked at, for example, some of the top floors of the building right underneath Donald Trump’s triplex, and you see one person after another, the head of the mobbed-up Concrete Union’s lady friend, owning a bunch of apartments, that she all put together. She was so, they were so influential in the building. She decided she wanted a swimming pool in her apartment. And imagine in an apartment building, not a one pool for all the tenants, but just for her. And they were able to get Trump to say yes, and they had to go to very elaborate measures, redesign measures, to make that possible. There was another guy who was a mob connected, and there’s a story of Donald Trump personally closing on his apartment with him, sitting with the guy at the conference table as he counts out $200,000 in cash. We don’t have time here to go through all these people, but just one after the other, after the other. Connections with the Italian mob. Connections with the Russian mob. And trying to focus this, what we’re looking at is how Donald Trump was so close with, and actually dependent on, doing business with people who were criminals. And he did this for years, year after year, after year. And what appears to have been this sort of increasingly dominant group as his financial fortunes fell, as his casino empire came undone, were these Russians with fortunes of dubious origin. And so Felix Sater is very, very important, because he’s a guy who’s working for the FBI, according to some accounts reporting to them every single day. He’s in there doing business with Donald Trump on all of these projects, bringing all these people together with Trump, all these mysterious companies with ties again into the former Soviet Union. And so essentially what we’re looking at is some kind of configuration where Donald Trump is highly dependent on very, very problematical people for his survival. And that’s what we already see going back some years.
Pat: Did his involvement with the Russian mob, did that become really serious, because of his financial difficulties? He couldn’t get a loan any place. None of the banks would loan him any money because he was facing problems. And did he then get the loans that he needed, from Russia?
Russ: Let’s put it this way, what he did was, if you look at Trump Soho, or some of these other projects, he’s not putting most of the money in. The money is coming from Sater’s company, a company called Bayrock. It was all these people from the former Soviet Union, wherever that money came from. Another partner, firm called FL Group out of Iceland, but that was connected itself back to the former Soviet Union. And so on, and on, and on with these projects, we see monies coming from that region.
Pat: And some of these companies, some of these organizations, that you’re talking about, it’s not just the Russian mob. It seems as if the New York mob has gotten involved in some of these too. So it’s a big mob fest.
Russ: Yeah, you did see some New York mob connections. I think to some extent they were cooperating. The New York mob was on the scene earlier, and I assume, wanted a piece of the action. So yes, I think it’s some kind of a mixture there.
Pat: Now, Donald Trump said that he wouldn’t know what Felix Sater looked like if he was sitting in the room with him. Is that a credible claim, Russ?
Russ: Well, the problem that he has with that is that we have put up, I have to go back and look at our article, but I believe you’ll see pictures of Donald Trump standing there with Felix Sater. You know, I mean, these guys were, you know, cutting the ribbon on hotels. I mean, how does he not know who he is. He was a key partner with him for a number of years. And then after Sater… Sater had a criminal past. He had a criminal past, both for this pump and dump stock scheme, but also because he had attacked a man in a bar and hit him with at the time a broken bottle or something like that. And so he was convicted of that. And all of these things were basically a blighted record, and so he started using this other spelling of his name so that it wouldn’t show up in the records. So they were very connected. And then The New York Times, back in I think it was 2007, discovered Sater’s criminal record, did an article on it, and at that point Sater had to leave this real estate company that was working with Trump. But what did he do? He ends up staying in Trump Tower. Now he’s got an office, he’s got an email address, and a phone, all provided by the Trump organization. It’s kind of amazing, really the blatant fearlessness that, I think, the Trump people showed in continuing to associate with this man. He had these business cards that said that he was an advisor to Donald Trump, and he was, I believe, one floor below Trump. And he talked about how he used to just anytime he wanted, he would just mosey on up and just pop into the Donald’s office to hang out with him. We also described in our article on WhoWhatWhy.org, we also described how Donald Jr. and Ivanka went over to Russia to look around for opportunities. Donald Jr. in a speech said that Russia was their main source of funding at that point. And who took him under his wing and showed them around but Felix Sater! Again, this man that’s believed to be connected to the boss of bosses of the Russian mob, and only a few steps removed from Vladimir Putin himself.
Pat: So, during this time, Sater is all this time an asset to the FBI, an informant for the FBI, and what’s he doing, I mean, has he stopped his criminal activities and he’s merely informing, or is he just going about his business like he used to do?
Russ: Well, we don’t really know. I mean ostensibly he had “gone straight,” and he was now, you know, in business with an honorable individual like Donald Trump. And so, the FBI, what were they doing? They were running him, and he was providing them with information. We know that despite the fact that he was convicted in this pump and dump, and personally, as I recall, responsible for $40 million essentially stolen from people. He normally, of course, in a situation like that, you do a long jail time and you have a tremendous bill to pay. But instead, they let him off with eventually with nothing more than a $25,000 fine. And what they did was a sort of, instead of going after him for a number of years, they just left basically, left him to do his business. And he traveled widely, and he traveled to Eastern Europe. He traveled all kinds of places. Again this appears to have been with the permission of the FBI. And as far as we can tell, we think they used him to, again, sort of try to infiltrate or keep an eye on Mogilevich’s operations. Again, that’s too complicated to explain on this show, but it’s all in the article. They were involved in companies and scams everywhere. And so this was considered to be extremely important. Now, whether his information was any good or not, we don’t know. But the point is that the FBI had invested in this man, and Pat, the comparison we make is, do you may remember the mobster out of Boston, Whitey Bulger? [Pat: Oh yah!] And so what happened was, this was the head of a mob family in New England, and he was also just a stone cold killer. But the FBI, he cut a deal with the FBI, and they worked with him because he provided them with information. But he was continuing to have people killed while he was under the protection of the FBI. And so, this of course became a huge scandal and eventually you had to have another part of the FBI investigate that part of the FBI. There were tremendous recriminations for that, and so we don’t know yet fully the whole picture of what we’re looking at. But we do know that the FBI is protecting this guy Sater, and seemingly protecting that whole, you know, sort of penumbra around Donald Trump.
Pat: Which makes you wonder about the whole wiretapping of Trump Towers, you know, that happened in some of these offices. Russ, let me take another break here and let’s continue. You know, Ukraine looms large, and I’d like us to bring Ukraine into the story as well. Russ Baker is my guest. This article that we’re talking about, you can see this at WhoWhatWhy.org. It’s headlined, “Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia,” and we will get to that as well when we come back. By the way, Russ wrote the fabulous book Family of Secrets. If you haven’t read that one, you need to read it as well. I’m Pat Thurston, you’re listening to KGO.
Good evening I’m Pat Thurston. Russ Baker is my guest. Russ is an author, former investigative reporter for the Village Voice, editor-in-chief of WhoWhatWhy.org, and he’s an investigative reporter in his own right today as well. The book that he’s probably best known for is Family of Secrets. I think it’s one of my favorite books on my bookshelf today. But he wrote a piece recently. It’s on the website WhoWhatWhy.org. It’s headlined “Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia.” He and some of his cohorts at WhoWhatWhy got together, they did an investigation that was what, about two months you were investigating these Russia ties, Russ? What put you on to the mob angle?
Russ: I mean, I think a number of us were already aware of that, looking at it historically. Two of us, Jon Larsen, one of our board members, also senior editor for us, and I come out of The Village Voice, the late great back when The Village Voice was one of America’s, maybe the world’s, leading investigative publications. And back then we did a lot of stuff reporting on the mob, and this is the late 80s, early 90s. We were known for that, and one of our, couple of our people there, Robbie Friedman worked there. He did a lot of great stuff for the book later called Red Mafiya, about the Russian mob. And then another colleague Wayne Barrett, award-winning journalist, did some of the earliest work on Donald Trump and about Donald Trump and the mob, and wrote one of the early biographies of Trump. And so all that was on our radar, and had been for many years. And as Trump, as we saw him running for president, we were sort of amazed that this was not coming up. That somehow the media wasn’t paying any attention to this. So we were thinking, this is amazing, because anybody else, whether it was Hillary Clinton or anybody else, the littlest thing was turned into something huge. And yet here was this man, with this really stunning record of associates and behavior throughout his entire professional life, and none of it was coming up, none of it was sticking.
Pat: Do you think that the media, I mean even today, Russ, you’re the one who’s reporting on it. Do you think that the rest of the media who, you know, they follow his tweets like their manna from heaven, do you think they knew about it and ignored it? Do you think that they didn’t bother looking into what his background held? Was it too hard? Were they not been able to find what you found?
Russ: You know, I think one of the problems is that being in the media means trying to prove to everybody how objective you are. I know this may sound hard to believe, but that really is something we’ve all been told is, to always show our fairness and our balance and so on. And the problem is there isn’t any real balance in the world, and so if you’ve got two people running against each other, one of them may be basically a fairly decent relatively honest or completely honest person, and the other may be an out and out, you know, crook or thug. But how do you tell your readers, your audience about that, about that difference without sounding like you got an agenda. And so this is very hard to pull off. And I think most of the mainstream media tends to handle it exactly backwards Pat, that they go after people, who really there isn’t a lot to go after them on, because it makes it, it proves how sort of fair they are. And then they go easy on the really troublesome ones.
Pat: And you can’t balance those things you. So, Ukraine. Bring Ukraine into this story with the Russian mob, and Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin.
Russ: Okay, so I think most people know that the Ukraine has been a big deal because of Russia’s attempts to influence it to their tacit, you know, what do you want to call it, invasion or sponsored quasi-invasion of parts of the Ukraine. Their sponsorship of victory, Yanukovych and various politicians who have run Ukraine at certain points, who were pro-Moscow, maybe Moscow puppets. The reason is very simple. Ukraine was the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union. It’s a very productive country. The soil, it’s got a lot of the minerals and factories or what have you. And also, it’s become very important because pipelines taking natural gas from the former Soviet Union to Western Europe, and most importantly to Germany, badly needed supplies of those countries they don’t develop themselves, passes through Ukraine. And so there was a big to do about these pipelines and who controlled them, and so forth. And without getting into all the detail, this became an enormous international issue, and Western Europe and the West panicked, United States panicked about Russia’s ability to basically shut off the spigot. So you saw American intelligence, all of these intelligence services, getting into the country, behind-the-scenes, trying to influence who would run the country and so on. Anyway, to make a long story short, in this period, we see that there’s a mysterious company that is given a key intermediary role with this pipeline, and essentially what happens is they discover that they believe that the man who actually secretly runs his company, again is this so-called Brainy Don, the boss of bosses, Mogilevich. The same man who supposedly getting into and running all these stock market things on Wall Street in New York, is running companies in Budapest and Pennsylvania, everywhere. Now he shows up supposedly controlling these vital energy pipelines to Western Europe, and so they were really panicked about this. As far as we know, they were again setting up operations, FBI and so onon, to try to figure out who was involved with that. And there’s Felix Sater, who really should’ve been locked up in that period, but instead, they’re letting him travel and he’s going to Ukraine. His father was from Ukraine, and his father is said to have been a soldier in Mogilevich’s army of mobsters. And so there’s all this stuff going on in Ukraine. And then we start seeing all these other familiar names piling in. Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, all these folks who later would become involved with Trump’s campaign, start going into Ukraine and being paid obscene amounts of money to basically try to help these candidates, these pro-Moscow candidates to run and control the situation there. They’re helping oligarchs improve their PR image and so forth. And so it’s this kind of massive piling on. We recently have found that Paul Manafort was being paid $10 million a year for years in order to make one of these oligarchs look good.
Pat: Unbelievable, and then there’s Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, who lobbied Michael Flynn who subsequently resigned, with a scheme to lift sanctions on Russia because of Ukraine.
Russ: Right, so here’s another twist in our Netflix original here. So, flash forward a number of years, and stuff in Ukraine has been going on, but started, let’s say back in 2005 or 2006. But this year in January of this year, Donald Trump, the month that he was inaugurated, we know that a meeting was held at a hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. That meeting involved a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. This man is part of the pro-Putin faction, and he had come there with a so-called peace proposal, a proposal that was supposedly, what the U.S. says, embargo against Russia because of its occupation of parts of the Ukraine. And so this peace proposal was supposed to stop this embargo and work this out. And the peace proposal is brought by this Ukrainian, and he meets in this hotel with Cohen who is Donald Trump’s personal attorney, used to be the attorney for the Trump organization, now his private attorney. And another man, Felix Sater. So even after all of these years, this man is still hanging out, here he is hanging out with Trump’s lawyer, and they’re sitting in this hotel receiving this Putin-sponsored peace treaty. And according to this the parliamentarian, then Cohen takes it to the White House and gives it to General Flynn, who we now know himself has all these ties to Russia, and of course, traveled to Russia in late 2015 – the famous picture of him sitting at a dinner next to Vladimir Putin. He was paid $40,000 to show up and attend this dinner. So what you’ve got is, you’ve got all of these people. And then you even look at Cohen himself, he joined Trump’s organization, oh, about 2006, 2007. We looked into his past and guess what? His wife is Ukrainian. His brother’s wife is Ukrainian. The brother’s father-in-law is a man who rose from humble origins to become a billionaire in the Ukraine. So, I mean, this is this incredibly lucky bunch, and they’re all around Trump.
Pat: And it’s just all so coincidental. Alright, let me do one more break and when we come back I do want to get to the FBI and go back to Felix Sater. I want to talk a little bit about why the FBI can’t come public with this information at this point in time, and also the law-enforcement figures who maintained a kind of relationship with Sater, one of them actually to Trump. We’ll talk about that when we come back. Russ Baker is my guest. Russ Baker is the, he’s the editor in chief of WhoWhatWhy.org. He’s also a former investigative reporter for The Village Voice, and of course he is an author. I’m Pat Thurston and you’re listening to KGO.
Good evening, I’m Pat Thurston. Russ Baker is my guest. Russ is the editor-in-chief at WhoWhatWhy.org. You’ll always learn something there, I would recommend it highly. His newest piece is, “Why FBI Can’t Tell It All on Trump, Russia.” So Russ, let’s talk a little bit about Felix Sater and the relationship that these FBI agents seem to have to him. These were the ones who, what they were running him. Is that the term? They were the ones who were controlling him?
Russ: That’s right, and what we find is that when it came time for him to face the music for the crimes that he had committed, these people trooped into the court room – it was a closed session with the judge, and both the FBI people and the prosecutors asked for leniency and talked about how terrific he’d been, how incredibly important and incredibly helpful he had been. They said that he’d been helpful, both on national security, and on matters relating to organized crime. Now, we don’t know too many specifics. We don’t know what that really amounted to, but they were very, very high on this guy, which is quite interesting because of all of his connections back to Putin. So this is where it starts getting so complicated. If Putin is tight with the head of this worldwide Eastern European mob, if this man has some connections in there, if he’s working closely with the FBI and he’s close with Trump, and Trump’s doing business all these people, it’s very hard to sort out what’s going on, or what the agenda is. But in any case, they were so determined to protect him, that when in a lawsuit, some of this threatened to come out, they went after these lawyers very aggressively. And they did everything they could to stop them, to harass them, to shut them up, and what we see, and this is extremely odd, is that we noticed that two of the U.S. attorneys who were supposed to be prosecuting Felix Sater left the government and show up in a private law firm where they are now representing Felix Sater. And we also see that a couple of the FBI agents who were involved with handling him, end up in strange circumstances. Just to kind of summarize, these two women, these two prosecutors end up at this firm. This firm has a Moscow office, a very big Moscow practice, and they end up, I mean it’s really quite astonishing. One of them ends up – well, the firm I should say, ends up handling Donald Trump’s ethics and his investment – so when he becomes president, and of course you remember there was all this controversy about, you know, could he be president, what to do with all of his business interests. And so, he said, well, I brought this law firm in. It’s that same law firm with those women who would been handling Felix Sater, now supposedly, sorting all of this stuff out. And we see that one of the FBI agents handling Felix Sater goes into private security, and they start a firm, and they get hired by Donald Trump. And as far as we know, to this very day, he is personally providing security for Donald Trump. So what does this all mean?
Pat: He’s that guy whose name was mentioned – you mention this in the article, he was somebody who was kind of roughing up the protesters at Trump rallies.
Russ: Right, right, but I mean how amazing is that? This guy is supposedly working for us in the FBI trying to stop the Russian mob, and Putin, and everything. And now he’s roughing people up at Trump rallies. I mean, it’s extraordinary. The other guy who is also involved with this is now in private practice of cyber security. Sound familiar? The whole story with the Russian hacking? And he gets interviewed by the Washington Post, and he says they asked him about the stuff with Hillary and the hacking, and he says, “Oh I don’t think the Russians were trying to help Trump, I think they were just try to send a message to Hillary.” Well, the Washington Post probably didn’t know, or didn’t mention, that this man had been involved with running Felix Sater, who was in with Donald Trump. It’s just this incredible… it’s a complicated extremely disturbing meta-pattern.
Pat: So you revealed all of this, and I have a couple questions about the FBI director, Comey. He told us about reopening Clinton’s email investigation just before the election. Surely he knows about the FBI’s ongoing investigation with the Russia connections and Donald Trump. Why didn’t he reveal that to the public?
Russ: I think he’s in an extremely difficult position, and, you know, we’ve heard that he was pressured by the New York FBI office, and of course that’s the office that was running Sater, that he was pressured to reveal these things about Hillary Clinton. We don’t know for sure what that’s all about. He seems to have gone back and forth, and have been under a lot of different kinds of pressures, but we know that the net effect of this, the net effect of the New York FBI-Sater operation, pressing him to come forward with this stuff about that they’re looking into Hillary Clinton. After Hillary Clinton had gotten past all that stuff about her servers, now it was about something else, you know. And so this was extremely damaging to her by almost any calculations. That may have been the factor that resulted in her loss and Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States.
Pat: Yeah, and after all the dumping of the Podesta emails as well. So recently Russ, Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, he’s been all freaked out and ran to the White House with something. Had a meeting on the White House grounds first, then went before the press, then ran to the White House to share what he knew, that had something to do with intercepts of people on the Trump team. Could this be what he got hold of, what he was all freaked out about, and still is? Because he still hasn’t released the information, even to his own committee?
Russ: Today he said something about that what he looked at, supposedly in a secure facility (SCIF – Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility) of the White House, was, you know, incidental intelligence collected on Americans, and on Trump. And he says that it had nothing to do with Russia. Now you have to be careful with all of that, because it might have nothing to do with Russia, but it might have something to do with a Russian. It might have nothing to do with Russia, but might have something to do with Ukraine, or Kazakhstan, or Georgia, or any of these other places where the Trump organization has been doing business, where Felix Sater has been traveling and so forth. And so, you cannot, you know, you have to be careful to understand what they say may be literally true, but substantively untrue.
Pat: Like what the definition of is, is. Russ, we need an independent prosecutor, right?
Russ: I think so.
Pat: I think so too. You have been delightful and compelling as always, and I’m going to ask people again to go and read the entire thing, because there are a lot of twists and turns, a lot of complexities. The article is called, “Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia,” and you can access that in addition to a number of other investigative reports at WhoWhatWhy.org. Russ Baker has been my guest. Russ, delightful to talk with you, thank you.
Russ: Thank you. My Twitter is @RussBaker.
Pat: Alright, @RussBaker. I’m Pat Thurston, this is KGO.
Peter B. Collins Interview – Full Text Transcript:
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Peter B. Collins: Hey, thanks for downloading this in-depth interview from peterbcollins.com. You’re about to hear Russ Baker, editor-in-chief at WhoWhatWhy.org, and he’s going to detail their powerful exposé published about a week ago about the fascinating connections between Donald Trump and an array of Russian figures. Some are criminals, some are mobsters, some are both. And unlike so much of the speculative reporting that we’ve seen about Trump and Russia in the last nine months, WhoWhatWhy’s investigation is based on named sources and documents, not secret leaks and anonymous voices. I think you’re going to find this really fascinating, and it’s all made possible by people like you who support my work at peterbcollins.com, through your subscriptions. Folks like Wendy Gabower, Lydia Dolan who just took out a new annual subscription. Paul Tomaselli and Cynthia von Hendricks. I’d like you to join them. Come on over to peterbcollins.com and check out your options. You click on menu, then click on “become a subscriber,” it takes you to the sign-up page, and you can take it from there.
Today on the Peter B. Collins podcast, a complicated tale of Donald Trump’s connections to Russian mobsters, and as compared with much of the reporting of the corporate about Trump and Russia, this exclusive investigative piece from WhoWhatWhy.com is actually based on documents, not leaks, and its sources are not anonymous, they are named. Our opening music today from the late Jerry Garcia. It’s his Russian lullaby, and this is not quite a bedtime story. Russ Baker joins us once again. The scrappy investigative journalist who heads WhoWhatWhy.com. Hello, Russ.
Russ Baker: Hey, Peter, always a pleasure to do your show.
Peter: Well, thanks for being with me today, and congratulations on a lengthy exposé that you published about a week ago at WhoWhatWhy.com. And let’s credit your co-writers, C. Collins, that’s with the initial C, and Jonathan Z. Larsen. First of all, you have my compliments as I mentioned in the intro that I didn’t find a single leak referenced in this story. I didn’t see any anonymous sources. And the kind of journalism that you’re doing is so valuable today at a time when we see reports that are based on leaks, that then are reported on by other outlets, and become treated as fact, like for example the claim that Russia hacked the DNC servers. We still don’t have any evidence of that, yet it is treated as fact, and then other elements are built on that shaky foundation. So you’re practicing the fundamentals of journalism like the name of your organization suggests.
Russ: Well, appreciate it. We do try to adhere to the most honorable aspects of journalism. We do a lot of our work with documents. We try to get a hold of and scrutinize documents. We try to talk to as many people as we can. And then we work collegially, and I think that’s another thing that sort of distinguishes us. Not only on this piece where there are three co-authors working together, but we have a larger circle of people within and outside of WhoWhatWhy, with whom we discuss these stories in trying to figure out what do they mean, what’s significant, you know, why should people care. And then they go through this tremendous editing process with a whole bunch of editors who would go through and ask lots of great questions, and at the end, usually whatever it is, you know, we feel pretty good about it.
Peter: The other thing is that you have been a long time and credible critic of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and I think this is really important because over the past year, certain people have surfaced who were critical of what James Comey did in July, to say that there would be no prosecution of Hillary Clinton and then he popped up again in October and in early November. And, you know, I consider the FBI to be a rogue agency, and I think James Comey needs to be held accountable for many of the decisions and actions that he has taken. And going back to the case of Whitey Bulger that we’ll reference again in a moment, the Boston bombing and the murky death of Ibragim Todashev behind an FBI bulletin in Florida, you have really distinguished yourself as a sharp investigator of the investigators.
Russ: Well, appreciate that. You know, when we look at any institution, whatever it is, we try not to do so through rose tinted lenses. And that is one of our critiques of much of the media, both the establishment, or mainstreams, or corporate media, and how they know from repeated experience and from history, about the very serious problems that you referred to with the Bureau, with other apparatuses. And so, this is all known, and yet, the default position every time is to go back and just say, “Well, the FBI says,” as if it’s gospel. And then of course you have folks who understandably, I mean, are very, very critical of the FBI, really all the time. We’re not critical of the FBI all the time. We think there are people in the FBI who are dedicated public servants and trying to do the right thing and, you know, you need some kind of institution like that. But I’d have to agree with you that the problems are tremendous. They’ve always been there throughout most of the history with J. Edgar Hoover. But long after Hoover’s death, they’re still there. It’s still a little bit of a mystery how the Bureau is run, who makes the decisions, because it’s not the President of the United States. I think arguably, it’s not the Attorney General, supposedly above the FBI. And even arguably, it’s not someone like James Comey. Those people come and go. There’s a kind of an institutional value system and institutional memory, and also of course a tremendous amount of compartmentalization and secrecy within the FBI. So whether it is, as you put it, a rogue agency or not, it certainly is a problematical one, and it’s one that, yes, I have to agree with you, that we need much more control over.
Peter: The central thrust of your lengthy pieces, it’s over 6,000 words, is that the FBI has had a long-running investigation into a cluster of criminals and Russian mobsters, many of whom who have used Trump Tower as their base of operations. And their location is not, as you point out in the article, any smoking gun, of connections to Trump personally, or his sprawling business empire. But I want to start here by going to the summary of your piece, you say to sum up, “WhoWhatWhy’s investigation suggests that the FBI and using an informant with a strong connection to Trump and alleged ties to Russian mobsters, including one deemed a national security threat, has seemingly tied its own hands investigating the President. This makes it difficult – turn page – for the Bureau to pursue the President’s long-running proximity to mobsters, including gangsters from the former Soviet Union and to those with close connections to the Russian president and oligarchic elite. This in part could explain the FBI’s odd behavior and the confusing back and forth on what the government knows about Russia’s interventions into the 2016 election.”
So with that as the thumbnail for our listeners, I want to next talk briefly about Whitey Bulger and how you have exposed that while he was a paid FBI informant for years, he continued to conduct his criminal operations, even reporting them to the FBI on a daily basis, and that’s a model for Felix Sater who we’ll talk about next.
Russ: That’s right, I mean, what we’ve been looking at is this relationship between Trump and this fellow Sater. And in a nutshell, Sater came on the FBI’s radar because he was involved with a criminal Wall Street operation that was essentially bilking unsophisticated investors. And at some point he turned, I guess, and cut a deal. We know he cut a deal with the authorities and he became a cooperator. Now what was he cooperating with them on? Back in the 1990s, Russian or let’s say organized crime originating in the former Soviet Union, both Russia, as well as Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia, all of these places, these people began having a considerable influence in the United States. FBI, kind of late in the game, discovered this and started becoming very, very alarmed. Initially the threat seemed to be their involvement in Wall Street, then they later decided that it was really a threat to the whole financial system in the United States, and maybe even in the world. And that was in part, Peter, because they had recruited not your normal kind of hoods that you think of is involved, like La Cosa Nostra, you know sort of shaking people down, threats of violence, but actually some very skilled and highly educated people – computer scientists, mathematicians and what have you – that they had recruited all these people, and that they were able to use technology to gain an advantage to commit crimes in the stock situation and the financial system. And so they became very, very concerned about the long-term consequences of this. But then it became clear that this organized crime in Eastern Europe was also involved with other people who had left high level, the former Soviet Union, including people that had access to military armaments and even nuclear weapons. And so this became both a high level criminal investigation involving finance, and of potential threats to national security. And it was in that environment that Felix Sater was determined to be somebody who had connections into that syndicate, and could help the FBI understand and essentially penetrate, and I suppose, disrupt its operations. And so that really is the beginning of the story. Sater is involved with a company that moves into Trump Tower, and around in the early part 2001, 2002, and then not so much later that company, which is a real estate development firm, starts working with the Trump Organization developing major projects in New York and around the world. And so that’s the beginning of that relationship. The FBI is handling this Felix Sater, the same time that he and Donald Trump are personally working together to get these projects going.
Peter: And the sequence of events is that the first Sater is involved with a stock fraud company, a pump and dump operation called White Rock, then he moves over to Bay Rock, and the way you describe it, he seems to muscle out the others and take control. He’s described as 60 percent or greater owner of that. And Bay Rock proceeds to develop properties with the Trump brand. So this, you know, business connection is pretty strong. You also point out that Felix Sater had a suite at Trump Tower where he was able to internally walk upstairs into Donald Trump’s office, and sources apparently told you that was something that occurred frequently. So he was not just an arm’s length partner. Certainly Trump, in his real estate ventures, appears to have hundreds, if not thousands of limited partners, and other partners around the world. But this seems to be a repeated ongoing partnership relationship.
Russ: Well, that’s right, and by the way, just kind of go back a little bit historically, as we point out in this article on our website WhoWhatWhy.org, the Trump Tower opened in 1983 and almost immediately a fair number of the biggest tenants, the ones with the nicest apartments on the highest floors directly under Trump’s own triplex, turned out to be criminals and people with connections to both Italian organized crime, La Cosa Nostra, and also people from the former Soviet Union. We document in that article, we have a list of those people. So there’s already interest in some of those people by the FBI, even prior to their full awareness of the sort of so-called Russian mob influence. And so that’s what’s going on in the building. That’s very, very important to understand. And Trump is personally, I mean, personally dealing with some of these people, some of these criminals. And so then you have this Bayrock moves in, and yeah, I mean, they’re not just a one of many people who were interacting with Trump. You have to remember that Donald Trump, despite his so-called vaunted skills in making money, he actually lost huge amounts of money. He had invested very, very heavily and dominated Atlantic City, and that proved disastrous.
Peter: A real bad bet, yeah.
Russ: And without going into too much detail there, he really was down. And around this period we start seeing not just Bayrock and Felix Sater, but any number of different people from the former Soviet Union, pumping money into deals and programs with the Trump Organization. There’s actually a quote in that article from Donald Trump Jr. where he’s in the former Soviet Union. He actually makes a public statement that money from the former Soviet Union is key, is I believe a majority of their money. And then you’ve got this Sater and the people who partner into this thing. And Sater, as we understand it, and as he asserts, came up with the whole idea of this very fancy hotel, Trump SoHo hotel and condominiums. It’s a dominant building downtown today in New York, and that Sater came up with this idea of franchising the name all over the place, and that he would go and travel. And it’s very interesting because they had bilked people $40-$60 million, and he faced potentially a very long jail sentence, and a huge financial liability, but the FBI decided to basically let him off scot-free with a $25,000 slap on the wrist, and they themselves stated that he was tremendously helpful during this period. And they actually, despite the fact that he was, you know, a convicted criminal, not just for that, but for something else in an incident some years earlier, when he attacked and slashed a man with a margarita glass in a bar. But he had also been barred from working in financial stuff. And so nevertheless, there he was with all these big deals, and so he is basically taking the Trump name on the road and selling it, essentially sort of licensing it to all kinds of partners all over the place, many of them these people with mysteriously huge amounts of money. I want to emphasize that the Russian oligarchs, the money, you know, it’s not clear how people made so much money virtually overnight, but there certainly are real questions about that, and a lot of those kinds of people show up in these configurations. And we see very importantly, Peter, those two pages of tax returns in 2005. This is the period where you would’ve thought, based on Trump’s reversals, that he wouldn’t be making any money. But he shows himself to be making an enormous amount of money that year. In fact, it’s so much money. It’s more than some major billionaires who were known to be doing very, very well, than they were making as sort of their bottom line reportable income.
Peter: In the 2005 returns that were sent anonymously to David Cay Johnston, also indicated that gross income was $100 million higher because he took a $103 million in undetailed – they’re not detailed on the summary form – write offs. Some of that could have been the loss carry forward from his nearly billion-dollar write-down of the Atlantic City losses. And Johnston, who I’ve known for many years and interviewed over a dozen times, he’s followed Trump for over 25 years, and what I see here is that Felix Sater was the pivotal character who enabled Trump to convert from being a bricks and mortar developer with the heavy debt load and the responsibilities that come along with it, to a guy who merely licensed his name, and, you know, received healthy license revenues on an annual basis from hotel and resort operators in other parts of the world. So that fundamental shift of the business operations, the business model of Trump, your article suggests, is based on the work of Felix Sater. And let’s pop this here. Donald Trump today says that he can’t really remember Felix Sater. And gosh did I know him? You cite trips that he took with Trump and Melania to Colorado with the kids on business trips to Russia. And today they’ve got Alberto Gonzales amnesia. “I can’t remember. I don’t recall, senator.”
Russ: Yeah, that’s right and it is very hard to believe, and even if you give him the benefit of the doubt, I mean, as you put it, if this is the man who essentially helped Donald Trump convert his entire way of operating, and by the way, we’ve run a second piece on WhoWhatWhy.org focusing more on Sater on his background and there’s a wonderful little quote in there where he talks about his role in all of this stuff, and there’s a quote where he refers to his Trump card, how he would go around the world, and as you point out, I mean after… What happened was he was involved with this Bayrock company and he was using a false name, Felix Satter, double T, instead of singular, ostensibly so that investors and people involved with him in business would not be able to look him up and see that he already had a criminal record. But obviously Donald Trump who was dealing with this man, constantly must’ve done due diligence with him. You don’t just go into business with somebody, and he had a pretty good sense of who the man was. Anyway, The New York Times, I believe it was 2007, discovered that Felix Satter was Felix Sater, and exposed this piece of it, and then basically he left Bayrock, Bayrock unraveled, and then he went on to do his own thing. At this point, as you point out, now he’s in Trump Tower not in Bayrock, but in the Trump Organization. And they’ve given him an office space, an email address, his own business cards that say “Felix Sater, Consultant to Donald Trump.” I assume Donald Trump was aware that he had those cards, and certainly, they interacted directly with each other extensively. So it is hard to believe that there’s any way that he couldn’t remember this man, who by the way, is striking looking also, and apparently fairly charismatic. Very, very hard to imagine that he didn’t know who he was. And maybe later on in this conversation we can talk about how Sater re-emerges in the Trump circle this year. So if he didn’t know him, what’s he doing in the Trump circle in 2017 as Trump is becoming president?
Peter: Let’s do pause the narrative here for a moment, Russ, because I want to share with our listeners the source material that you used to research and write this piece, and it appears to be kind of an accidental discovery by a former Bayrock employee who found a copy of the FBI agreement, the cooperation agreement that Sater entered into with the agency. And that led to attorney Fred Oberlander, and again, this is so different from all the corporate media coverage, and the Rachel Maddow hoo-ha that we’re seeing so much of, which is driven by anonymous leaks and sources that we are not permitted to know. And so this led to the discovery of a hyper injunction in this case. Please explain.
Russ: Uh, yeah, so basically this gentleman working in Bayrock, a real estate development company, thought that a particular man ran the company that might’ve been questioned, if you consider that the man really didn’t speak English, another odd thing about this. But in any case, but when he found this thing, he suddenly realized that he was in the midst of an ugly situation. And so he went to an attorney, and that was this Fred Oberlander, and he said, “What do I do here?” And at that point they realize that he was potentially on the hook for all kinds of liabilities, because if you’re involved with somebody who has a criminal record, and that’s not revealed, you’re essentially a party to that. And by the way, this also could potentially affect Trump himself, vis-à-vis Felix Sater. But in any case, for a variety of reasons, he got a lawyer and they began pursuing what became a long-range legal action. And in the course of that, they’ve sought to obtain all kinds of documentation, and this gets us into another chapter of this whole thing, where basically the U.S. government has done everything in its power to prevent these people from obtaining information about Felix Sater and Donald Trump, and their relationship, and what was going on.
Peter: Now this hyper injunction is a new part of the law lexicon for me, a layperson, and it kind of reminds me of the language of the late Senator Arlen Specter, who talked about super duper precedents in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings. But is this hyper injunction legal? Can the court of appeals partially seal what appears to be this FBI cooperation agreement and related details about Felix Sater?
Russ: Well, we don’t know and I suppose maybe there’s an expert who knows, but we haven’t found one. And, those lawyers, Oberlander, and then not only do they attempt to suppress us, attempted to go after Oberlander if he talked to reporters, anything. He was essentially gagged, and they went after him, trying to get his law license revoked for so-called illegal ethical violation. It was very aggressive. He then had to have his own lawyer. So the lawyer has his own lawyer. And they’ve been pursuing this ever since. But they say that this hyper injunction, and we have the same sense that it’s extremely unusual. You talk about the so-called nuclear option, it’s a very, very hard-core thing that may not have really been used before in this country, and in these kinds of situations. As you know, the FBI, and the CIA, and so on, they regularly try to argue on any front that they can to these judges, whether it’s in a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) or in other sorts of courts, they try to go into a judge’s chambers and say, “Your Honor, something very sensitive here, sources and methods, national security,” what have you, and the judges almost always go along with them. And so this is an unusual thing, where they’re really just like this guy. You can’t do anything, you can’t say anything, and we understand that he was told that he could not inform Congress. And of course, that’s very interesting, because that’s another branch of the government with an important role as a check and balance in all of this.
Peter: Well, that suggests collusion between the executive branch and the judicial branch to deny Congress the oversight rights that it rarely exercises, particularly with the FBI.
Russ: Oh, that’s right, and it certainly looks like that.
Peter: Now, Russ, next let’s talk about any connections to Semion Mogilevich, who you describe as the boss of bosses of the Russian mob. And in your answer, please describe the elements of the Russian mob, because it’s a little bigger, and the tentacles go deeper, than our notion of the mafia for example.
Russ: Yeah, so as I mentioned earlier they, the Russian mob, recruited this unusual caliber of individual. They also of course had hitmen and all the other usual stuff. Basically, Russian organized crime existed, or Soviet organized crime, existed back when there was a Soviet Union. And although on the one hand the authorities jailed a lot of these people, they also worked with them on things. They would have them do certain things, and there were relationships between the KGB and organized crime. And when these people left the Soviet Union, they were helpful in other places. And we know that certain businesses run by people from the Soviet Union, were very helpful in obtaining electronic equipments and things. They owned stores, and what have you, and they were able to get these sorts of things that the Soviet government entities, like the KGB, and what have you, GRU, and so forth, that they needed. So there was this sort of two-sided relationship. On the one hand, distancing. On the other hand, cooperating with them. What happened was, in the 1970s, when there was an effort to let some Russians leave, particularly those who claimed to be Jewish, although some of them might’ve been their heritage, they certainly weren’t a real adherence, and many of them falsely claimed to be, were able to leave. And the Russian government took the opportunity, not just to let people like the Sakharovs and what have you, the very distinguished and eminent people, but they emptied their jails, and a lot of these people were able to pour out and go to various places, including coming to the United States, and settling largely in the Brighton Beach, Coney Island section of Brooklyn. And so, that was already back in the 70s. And then more and more of this, and of course, when the Soviet Union collapsed, what you saw was a lot of these people leave, and you also saw the flight of capital. And now you had all of these apparatchiks in the former Soviet Communist par see an opportunity as everything fell apart. Here were all these state enterprises, and they saw an opportunity to grab them for pennies, basically. And once they grabbed them, suddenly they were able to sell these things off or get contracts and now they were tremendously wealthy. Now they had all this money, what were they going to do with it? I think they were justifiably worried about the unpredictable turns of the situation there in the former Soviet Union, and they wanted to get the money out, and now you get into money-laundering. And money-laundering, typically, you look for businesses and solid assets you can put it into. One of the best, supposedly, for money-laundering, is real estate, and this gets us again to things like Trump Tower, buying all these properties. You know, it’s very interesting about this. You may know this story, Peter, I think it’s in our article, this man down in Florida, this man, former Soviet Union fellow, I guess a billionaire, and he buys Donald Trump’s… he’s got this mansion – I’m not talking Mar-a-Lago, it’s another place, waterfront mansion – he buys it and it’s super premium, gives the Donald way more than he had paid for it, not that many years later.
Peter: It’s about a $60 million flip.
Russ: Yeah, and then he raises the property. It looked pretty good to me, and he just wipes it out. I guess he had so much money. But that’s very interesting, and so anyway, you know, who is and isn’t, and I’m not to make any particular allegations about this man or anybody else, who is and who isn’t. And frankly to your question about this whole, you know, the sort of origins. It’s important to note that experts believe that it’s very hard to draw a line between the Russian state and organized crime, that there are so many relationships and so much cooperation of who is a legitimate business person and who isn’t, that none of that means anything anymore. And in fact, quite a few people have said that Vladimir Putin and Semion Mogilevich are close and work well together. And I might mention that Mogilevich, the so-called boss of bosses, sent a man, Ivankov, to the United States to manage the situation here. FBI got a tip that he was in the U.S., they couldn’t find him, and when they finally found him, he was living in Trump Tower. He must’ve got a tipoff or something, because he disappeared, and they couldn’t find him, and when they found him next, he was in Atlantic City at Trump Taj Mahal. This is the guy running, we are told, the Russian mob in the United States. So that’s obviously very, very interesting. And then that man, eventually back in Russia, tells someone, maybe it was an offhand remark, I don’t know why he said it, that Semion Mogilevich and Vladimir Putin were extremely close, and shortly thereafter walking down the street in Moscow, he is assassinated by a high-powered rifle from a sniper.
Peter: Well, Russ, clearly you in this lengthy piece examine a lot of these questionable connections between Trump and the people with ties to Russia, and specifically to Russian mob activities. And you’ve already identified one vulnerability that Trump, by consorting with a known felon, may have entered into agreements where that was not properly disclosed to the other parties, and in that respect, he may be vulnerable to civil or criminal exposure. Do you find any other possible criminal behavior that you can link personally to Donald Trump?
Russ: Well, one has to be careful with this sort of thing, and I’m not a lawyer. I think the big issue here is that the kind of money you were talking about, whether he was making $120-$130 million as his net in a single year, which we need to remind people is actually an enormous amount of money. I mean, you and I know it’s an enormous amount of money, but because we never get near that kind of money, we don’t how enormous it is. It’s extremely enormous by anybody’s standards. But as you point out, there may have been even more in the picture after, once you consider those long-term deductions. And so we see, you know, by their own admission again, Donald Trump Jr. and so forth, talking about how most of their monies, in that period, was coming from this former Soviet Union. When you consider that, and when you consider that those monies in the former Soviet Union were to some extent, to some large extent, considered to be criminally gotten, I think he’s right in there in that game, and I don’t see how you get around that. I mean maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t know what it is.
Peter: Early in your article you raise the question that this is an obvious one, and that is given what we know about this, what turns into a 30-year FBI investigation, and what appears to be a decision to continue to pursue this without disclosing it to key parties, including the American voter, in time for people to take into account before the November elections. And so it’s certainly murky and messy, and the, you know, difficult thing I think we have in trying to process all this, is the extent to which the FBI would pursue this investigation over the broader and certainly more immediate issues of whether Trump is compromised, and suitable to become president. It appears they made the decision to protect their long-running investigation over the more immediate concerns I just mentioned.
Russ: Well, that’s right, that’s really a key issue for us and if you look at Comey’s behavior when he brought out this thing about Hillary Clinton. Again, you know, this thing with the Anthony Weiner what have you, you know, that whole thing, obviously that impacted the election. I think all of the analysts and experts agree that that was enough, in a very close election, and there are different theories and analyses and explanations of why he did that. We do hear that he was under pressure from the New York FBI office. And of course this New York FBI office is the one that was running Felix Sater. And I think it’s important to note and this is, I believe, very significant, that not only were they running him at some point, and could’ve been for many years, but they seem to have continued to protect that. And in fact, we note in this article on WhoWhatWhy.org, a couple of the U.S. attorneys, all these people who were involved in supervising this thing, handling his plea agreement, and they went in before this judge, these U.S. attorneys, these FBI people, and they talked about what a wonderful asset he had been, incredibly important, extremely helpful.
We don’t know the nature of that. We don’t know whether they’re right. In some cases it turned out, obviously as you mentioned with Whitey Bulger, this mob boss the FBI got as a cooperator, we know that he continued to actually have people murdered while he was working with the FBI. So we don’t know what was involved during that period, but what’s very interesting is that they all go into the judge and they talk about this terrific guy and how helpful he’s been, and then a couple of them leave government, a couple of these U.S. attorneys, and they go to work for this law firm. And now what are they doing? They’re representing Felix Sater. I mean I find that amazing. And another couple of very interesting things is that that law firm, that same law firm that those two go into, ends up being selected by Donald Trump as the law firm that is going to oversee his assets when he becomes president and there’s an issue of conflict of interest. Which to me is astonishing. And then we find out as if you need any more icing on the cake, that that law firm has a major practice in Moscow that it is so influential there – it wins some kind of an industry award as the Moscow law firm of the year. What’s that all about? And then to top it all off, you’ve got these couple of FBI agents very involved with handling this guy, and they leave the bureau and they start a private security firm, and their client is Donald Trump, candidate Donald Trump. And one of them, and we have their pictures in the article, from what we’ve heard that he was accused, I don’t say accused, of manhandling people at Trump’s rallies. Really being very, very harsh with them. But I mean it’s quite interesting, but in fact we don’t know that that relationship ever ended because Trump went to the White House, bringing in not just secret service, but his own outside security contractor.
Peter: Let’s name the names here, because you cite X Mark Partners as the security firm and the principals there are Ed Deck and Gary Uher. And Uher you identify as the agent who investigated and handled Sater after his cooperation agreement. So that this really does beg many, many questions. and you also add the element that Loretta Lynch, who was the last Attorney General in the Obama administration, would’ve known about this case because she ran the U.S. Attorney’s office there in the eastern district, and so that would indicate that she was a party, as the nominal boss of James Comey, the FBI director, to the suppression of any information about investigations of Trump, including what Comey acknowledged at the March Capitol Hill hearing, that an investigation of Trump began last summer. So the conflicts here are really stunning, and you have detailed this, and addressed it in a way that frankly shames the corporate media, Russ. It’s powerful, and important, and very impressive.
Russ: Well, I appreciate those kind words. You know, just our organization, I don’t know if folks know this, we are a small organization. We’re a nonprofit by design. We don’t have any shareholders or owners or commercial interests. Not just that, but we don’t accept any advertising of any kind, which means that we’re able to do this work. The only limitation we face is where we’re going to get our funding, and we turn to people like your audience. We turn to the public to support our work, and, you know, that’s really who owns us, the public.
Peter: I want to endorse your very low-key appeal here, Russ. Many of my listeners are very generous to me, and I know some of you are pretty well heeled. So take a look at WhoWhatWhy.org. Look at the work that they’ve done on this story, and be as generous as you can, because there’s certainly more investigation and digging that needs to be done, and we’re not seeing it come from the well-funded corporate media outlets.
There was one other head scratcher here. I didn’t know that Paul Manafort was a resident of Trump Tower. And when Trump fired Corey Lewandowski last summer, and brought in the troika of Manafort, Conway and Bannon, he didn’t have to go very far to find Manafort, and of course, with his now well-publicized ties to Russian and Ukrainian interests, it just makes this the even more intriguing, Russ.
Russ: Well, that’s true, and in fact, there are even more layers of this onion, which in that article at WhoWhatWhy.org, go into some of these things, including Ukraine, as you point out. And there we see old to do which kind of sets up the eventual Russian efforts to control and occupy parts of the Ukraine. And it involves natural gas pipelines, and it involves very wealthy oligarchs, Putin’s interests, and we see the boss of bosses, Semion Mogilevich, again mentioned in there. And there is Manafort, and Stone, and so forth, all these same players. Felix Sater is traveling to Ukraine in that period. Donald Trump Jr.’s traveling there. It’s a complicated but extraordinarily rich and important story.
Peter: And Russ, I wouldn’t expect you to expose your hand too much, but what are the obvious questions and leads that you’re likely to be following up based on this initial investigation?
Russ: Well, we’re actually following quite a few leads. We, as I said, published a second piece on Felix Sater the other day. We have a third piece that’s largely done. And a fourth piece. And fifth piece. So if we’ve got the backing of the public, and the support, and the ability, we intend to stay on this story. It’s an important one, unusual, with –
important things to cover. But if you think about the magnitude of the basic questions being asked about the loyalties, interests, and values, and relationships to the President of the United States, there aren’t many stories that are more important than this.
Peter: Yeah. Well, Russ, I go way back. Watergate was my first big story as a young radio host in Chicago, and it really led me to the – that coupled with my coverage of Cointelpro at the time, and the murder of Fred Hampton –
really kind of scarred me for life, and left me with the cynicism and skepticism, that I think, is necessary to approach these subjects. And you’ve got it in good doses, and I’m looking forward to your subsequent installments.
I want to urge listeners to go to WhoWhatWhy.org. Read the articles that are there and then bookmark it so that you can go back for more as it rolls out. Russ Baker, always a pleasure. Thanks for joining me today.
Russ: Thank you very much Peter.
Peter: Thanks for listening to this in-depth interview with Russ Baker. Your comments are welcome. Email firstname.lastname@example.org